The first step to reaching any goal is to create a plan.
Want to start working out? Follow a carefully and strategically planned workout program. Want to write a book? Draft a plan on how you'll set aside time each day to write. Want to eat healthier? Then write down a meal plan each week, and stick to it.
The internet is filled with meal planning ideas, tips and tricks — and no single approach is better than the others. There are only those methods that work (or don't work) for you.
Like any new skill, learning to devise a healthy meal plan will take time and practice — but don't get discouraged! Trying new approaches to meal planning will help you fine-tune your own individual approach. If you stick to it, soon it will become second nature.
5 Easy Meal Planning Ideas for a Healthy Week Ahead
Below, I share several meal planning ideas that help me eat healthier. Feel free to customize this approach to suit your own diet, lifestyle, and preferences.
1. Pick a Platform (and Stick To It)
There are a number of smartphone apps, journals, and calendars designed to help you plan your meals. Decide which meal planner you prefer, and stick to it.
If you prefer going old-school with a pen and paper, great — have a dedicated planner, notebook, or calendar to reference weekly (no more scraps of paper stuffed in pockets and wallets, alright?). Or, if you're looking for a meal planner in digitized form, try the following:
- Mealime: Mealime offers a free meal-planning app where you can organize recipes by dietary preferences, then create grocery lists. This app is best for families, as you can create different meal plans for different people in your household.
- Paprika: Paprika allows you to collect recipes from anywhere on the web, then makes very intuitive shopping lists (example: If you have the same ingredient in multiple recipes, it will combine them into one item). Plus, it lets you schedule meals a month in advance.
- PlateJoy: PlateJoy allows you to collect healthy recipes for a number of different diets, including paleo, keto, vegetarian, vegan, and low-carb friendly. You can even opt to have groceries delivered to you through their partners at Instacart.
2. Think About What You Need To Eat — Not Just What You Want To Eat
Sometimes, it's a little too easy to get caught up in pretty recipe photos on Pinterest. In the end, you have some very delectable dinner recipes saved, but you're missing some key nutrients.
Rather than get caught up in fancy (and sometimes overly complicated) recipes, ask yourself the question, "What will fuel me to perform my best — both in my workouts and in my work life?"
The right nutrition will substantially influence if you achieve your objectives or not. Key aspects are caloric need and the appropriate macro split (the amount of proteins, carbs, and fats that make up your daily calorie consumption).
If you're like me, your shopping list might look like this:
- 1-2 nutrient-dense grains: Pick two healthy grains, like quinoa or brown rice, to offer fiber and valuable carbs. If you don't eat grains, choose a starchy vegetable, like squash or sweet potatoes.
- 3-4 proteins: To get through the week, you'll likely need 3-4 proteins, such as eggs, salmon, cod, lean chicken breasts, or turkey. You can also use plant-based proteins, such as lentils, black beans, chickpeas, or peanut butter.
- 4-5 veggies: Stock up on leafy green vegetables (like kale and spinach), broccoli, brussels sprouts, cauliflower, and zucchini to offer healthy side dishes for all meals.
- 1-2 snacks: I like to keep some healthy snacks on hand at all times, such as fresh fruit or a homemade trail mix made with dried fruit, almonds, cashews, and maybe some dark chocolate.
3. Cook Once, Eat Twice
Let's be realistic: Cooking 21 meals from scratch (seven dinners, seven lunches, seven breakfasts) every single week is exhausting. And that’s exactly why I don't do it.
Save yourself time and energy by making double batches of meals. Or, if you're someone who dislikes leftovers, look for recipes with overlapping ingredients. This allows you to cook the same base ingredient once, but use it in two entirely different recipes. For example:
- Taco meat: With a single pound of ground beef, you can make chorizo tacos for an easy dinner. The next day, combine the leftover beef with avocados, bell peppers, black olives, red onions, and cilantro slaw for a taco salad (or stuff into a quesadilla).
- Shredded chicken: You can easily make shredded chicken in the slow cooker, then use it to make chicken tortilla soup, BBQ chicken, or even chicken shawarma.
- Sweet potatoes: Bake sweet potatoes at the beginning of the week, then enjoy as a simple side or mashed into your morning oats. You can even make stuffed sweet potatoes as a dinner entree — topped with the taco meat and shredded chicken you already made! (See what I did there?)
4. Don't Overwhelm Yourself With Sunday Meal Prep
Listen, meal prep is a wonderful tool and a great way to get ahead for your work week. However, there was a time when I spent four hours on Sundays prepping every single meal instead of actually enjoying my weekends.
You don't have to make an entire recipe in order to meal prep. The idea is to "prep" your meals — even if it's just partial ingredients. Here are a few suggestions:
- Chop all vegetables: I like to chop all veggies the minute I come home from the grocery store, so they can easily be tossed in salads, smoothies, and stir-fries.
- Prepare grains: On Sundays, prepare 2-4 cups of rice or quinoa to be tossed in porridge, grain salads, or other dinners.
- Roast chicken and veggies: Toss veggies and your protein of choice in olive oil, then lay on a sheet pan. You now have roasted meat and veggies to use in a number of dishes throughout the week.
5. When You Have Time, Get Ahead
Some meal planning weeks will be easier than others. Therefore, if you have a week where you find yourself with extra time, make it count.
Make an extra grocery shopping trip, and try to make a few recipes that can be frozen for later use. Freezer meals can easily be defrosted, reheated, and enjoyed on a busy weeknight. Here are some tips:
- Freeze soups and stews: Soups and stews freeze remarkably well as long as they don't contain dairy. Freeze them in containers, then toss in the Instant Pot or Crock-Pot when you're ready to enjoy.
- Stock up on frozen vegetables: Frozen veggies are picked at the peak of ripeness, and often are more affordable than fresh. Keep frozen veggies on hand when you don't have time for a trip to the store.
- Research freezer-friendly meals: Meatballs, lasagna, and stir-fry freeze incredibly well. Search for "freezer" on sites like FoodGawker or Tastespotting for more ideas.
Use These Meal Planning Ideas To Prepare for Your Week
The goal of a weekly meal plan is to make your life more manageable. Taking the time to select recipes, plan meals, and make grocery lists will make your week much more efficient.
Plus, creating a plan allows you to follow a healthier, more balanced diet. By planning meals in advance, you are more likely to focus on nutrients you need — rather than make an impromptu decision at the grocery store.
These five meal planning ideas work for me, but they may not work for you. It's important to tweak your meal planning process so it fits nicely within your schedule.
If you would like to personally discuss your nutrition plans or meal planning tactics with me, sign up for a Premium Build Bullet-Proof Health membership. Not only do you get strength and cardio workouts, recovery tips, daily meal plans, and shopping lists, but you get a one-on-one call with me to discuss your needs.
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